‘There’s growing evidence that ramping up the number of newcomers we accept from around the world is one of the best ways for Canada to meet the challenges of a falling birthrate and aging population.’
Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, has until the end of this month to set out the country’s target for immigration in the coming year.
He should be bold. There’s growing evidence that ramping up the number of newcomers we accept from around the world is one of the best ways for Canada to meet the challenges of a falling birthrate and aging population.
This goes against a fair amount of conventional wisdom, which warns that more immigrants will make it harder for Canadians to find jobs. And for politicians it raises fears of a populist backlash against allowing more newcomers with different cultures and “values.”
The government must manage these concerns, but it should follow the evidence when making such big decisions that will have effects far into the future. And the evidence is mounting that Canada needs more people, not fewer, if it is to maintain robust economic growth and soften the impact of our aging population.
The latest comes this week from the Conference Board of Canada in a report entitled “450,000 Immigrants Annually?”
It compares three scenarios: keeping immigration at the current level of 300,000 people a year or 0.82 per cent of the population; raising it to 1 per cent of the population; or increasing the annual intake significantly to 450,000 (or 1.11 per cent) by the year 2025.
The board’s researchers concluded that the most ambitious path – ramping up immigration to 450,000 a year – would make it a lot easier for Canada to meet economic and financial challenges in coming years. It would help to head off an anticipated shortage of younger skilled workers. And it would ensure there are more taxpayers to pay for the health costs that are bound to soar as the baby boom generation enters its final decades, with all the expensive medical care that implies.
That’s largely because immigrants are on average 12 years younger than other Canadians and generally have a higher birthrate. Bringing in more of them lowers the average age of the population and ensures that a greater proportion of Canadians are still in their productive, healthier years. The Conference Board estimates the high-immigration scenario will also mean stronger economic growth – 2.05 per cent a year compared to 1.85 per cent if the government keeps on its current course.
Of course, that isn’t the whole picture. Higher immigration would mean a slightly lower GDP per capita – the researchers estimate about $1,270 less. But they argue that would not mean lower living standards since it would be easier to pay for spiraling health costs and governments would have more resources to tackle other issues.
And it can’t be denied that immigration brings its own share of problems. In recent years it has been harder for newcomers to integrate successfully in Canada than it was for earlier generations. Fewer come from Europe and more are from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They often experience significant barriers to entering the labour force even when they come with advanced education and needed skills.
The Conference Board estimates the potential that’s lost by having too many immigrants unemployed or under-employed at $12.7 billion a year. If this gap could be closed the benefits to be reaped from higher immigration would be even greater, and that should also be a priority for the government.
It’s not enough just to let people in; they should also be given the best chance to succeed and contribute all they can as quickly as possible. That’s also the best way to counter any potential backlash: if more immigrants are seen as contributing to the broad national welfare, fewer people will be tempted to resent their presence.
The timing is excellent to embark on a more ambitious course on immigration. Canada’s economy is robust at the moment and unemployment levels are low by historical standards (even though many worry that the jobs being created aren’t as stable as they could be).
And Canada stands out as a place of welcome while the United States under Donald Trump and many European countries close their doors to newcomers. As we have argued before, this is a terrific opportunity for Canada to attract the best talent from all around the world – well-educated, motivated people who want to make a future in a country that values what they have to offer.
This shouldn’t be seen as a short-term gambit while Trump rides high. It’s one of Canada’s key long-term advantages in a world where global talent is more mobile and more valuable then ever. If we can attract our full share we will go a long way toward ensuring Canada’s prosperity for decades into the future.
The government is already alert to this trend, and has taken some solid steps toward positioning Canada as a top destination for educated, entrepreneurial newcomers. Navdeep Bains, the innovation minister, has announced a “global skills strategy” aimed at making it easier for “low-risk, high-skill talent” to obtain visas and work permits. It will allow fast-growing firms to bring in high-demand international employees within weeks, rather than months.
That’s all to the good, but Canada should not be open only to the so-called “cream of the crop” – the most skilled people in certain high-demand fields. The mix of immigrants we welcome should include many types, including refugees and others whose contributions may not be so immediately obvious.
Canada has flourished by offering opportunity to people from around the world, and the evidence shows this is still the best path to ensure our future prosperity. As long as we take steps to give newcomers the best chance to succeed and politicians resist any temptation to raise fears, this country can accept substantially more people than it does now – and will be better off for doing so.
The immigration minister should listen to the experts and aim high when he sets out Canada’s targets in the next few weeks.
Source: The Star